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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Heavy metal (HM) emissions / Heavy metal (HM) emissions (APE 005) - Assessment published Dec 2012

Heavy metal (HM) emissions (APE 005) - Assessment published Dec 2012

Generic metadata

Topics:

Air pollution Air pollution (Primary topic)

Chemicals Chemicals

Industry Industry

Tags:
mercury | lead | heavy metals | cadmium | air pollution indicators | air emissions | pollution
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Performance indicator (Type B - Does it matter?)
Indicator codes
  • APE 005
Dynamic
Temporal coverage:
1990-2010
 
Contents
 

Key policy question: What progress is being made in reducing emissions of heavy metals?

Key messages

  • Across the EEA-32 countries, emissions of lead have decreased by 89%, mercury by 63% and cadmium by 60% between 1990 and 2010. For each substance, the most significant sources in 2010 are from energy-related fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities, and from industrial facilities.
  • Much progress has been made since the early 1990s in reducing point source emissions of cadmium and lead (e.g. emissions from industrial facilities). This has been achieved through improvements in, for example, abatement technologies for wastewater treatment, incinerators and in metal refining and smelting industries, and in some countries by the closure of older industrial facilities as a consequence of economic re-structuring.
  • In the case of mercury, the observed decrease in emissions may be largely attributed to improved controls on mercury cells used in industrial processes (e.g. in the chlor-alkali process) including the replacement of old mercury cells by diaphragm or membrane cells, and the general decline of coal use across Europe as a result of fuel switching.
  • The promotion of unleaded petrol within the EU and in other EEA member countries through a combination of fiscal and regulatory measures has been a particular success story. EU Member States have completely phased out the use of leaded petrol, a goal that was regulated by Directive 98/70/EC. From being the largest source of lead emissions in 1990, when it contributed around 75% of the EEA-32 total for lead, emissions from the road transport sector have decreased by nearly 99%. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 10% of total lead emissions in the EEA-32 region. However since 2002 little progress has been made in reducing emissions further; 98% of the total reduction from 1990 emissions of lead had been achieved by 2002.
  • Environmental context: Heavy metals (such as cadmium, lead and mercury) are recognised as being toxic to biota. All are prone to biomagnification, i.e. being progressively accumulated higher up the food chain, such that bioaccumulation in lower organisms at relatively low concentrations can expose higher consumer organisms, including humans, to potentially harmful concentrations. In humans they are also of direct concern because of their toxicity, their potential to cause cancer and their potential ability to cause harmful effects at low concentrations.
  • The relative toxic/carcinogenic potencies of heavy metals are compound specific, but exposure to heavy metals has been linked with developmental retardation, various cancers and kidney damage. Metals are persistent throughout the environment, and cadmium, lead and mercury are among those heavy metals that are already a focus of international and EU action. These substances tend not just to be confined to a given geographical region, and thus are not always open to effective local control. For example, in the case of cadmium, much is found in fine particles which do not readily dry-deposit, and therefore have long residence times in the atmosphere and are subject to long-range transport processes.

Change (%) in cadmium emissions 1990-2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: The reported change in cadmium (Cd) emissions for each country, 1990-2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Change (%) in mercury emissions 1990-2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: The reported change in mercury (Hg) emissions for each country, 1990-2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Change (%) in lead emissions 1990-2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: The reported change in lead emissions for each country, 1990-2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Key assessment

In the EEA-32 region, emissions of lead have decreased by 89%, mercury by 63% and cadmium by 60% between 1990 and 2010 (Figure 1). A combination of targeted legislation (for details see Indicator specification - policy context) coupled with improved controls and abatement techniques has in general led to significant progress being made in most countries to reduce heavy metal emissions (Figure 2, Figure 3 and Figure 4).

Cadmium
EEA-32 emissions of cadmium have declined by 60% between 1990 and 2010. This is largely due to improvements in abatement technologies for wastewater treatment, incinerators and in metal refining and smelting facilities, coupled with the effect of EC directives and regulations mandating reductions and limits on heavy metal emissions (e.g. the IED, IPPC directive and associated permitting conditions).

A number of countries (10 of the 28 EEA32 countries which have reported 1990 emissions) have achieved significant emission reductions in excess of 75% since 1990 (Figure 2). Countries that have reported the largest percentage reductions include the United Kingdom (90%), Lithuania (89%), Slovakia (87%), Hungary (87%), France (86%), Estonia (85%), Malta (83%) and Denmark (80%).

The largest emitters of cadmium in 2010 were Poland (responsible for 42% of total EEA-32 emissions), Spain (15%), Italy (8%), Germany (5%), Portugal (4%) and Greece (3%). Emissions from two countries (Greece and Netherlands) have increased during this period (Figure 3).

Mercury
EEA-32 emissions of mercury have declined by 63% between 1990 and 2010. This is attributed chiefly to changes in the industrial sector such as improving controls on mercury cells and their replacement by diaphragm or membrane cells, fuel-switching in the power and heat generating sectors from coal to gas and other energy sources in many countries, and the effect of various EU directives and regulations mandating reductions in heavy metal emissions.

All EEA-32 countries have reported lower emissions in 2010 than 1990, and a number of countries have made substantial cuts in emissions since 1990. The greatest reductions have been reported in Malta (96%), Slovakia (91%), Lithuania (89%), Hungary (88%) and Denmark (86%).

Since 1990 the largest reduction in Mercury emissions (53.2 kt in absolute terms) has been achieved by the 'Energy production and distribution' sector i.e. public power and heat generation. Mercury emissions from this sector are closely linked to the use of coal, which contains mercury as a contaminant. Past changes in fuel use within this sector since 1990, particularly fuel switching in many countries from coal to gas and other energy sources, closure of older inefficient coal-burning plants, and improved pollution abatement equipment etc. are mainly responsible for the past decreases in emissions from this sector.

Lead

EEA-32 emissions of lead have declined by 89% between 1990 and 2010, primarily due to reductions made by countries in emissions from the road transport sector. The promotion of unleaded petrol within the EU through a combination of fiscal and regulatory measures has been a particular success story. EU Member States and other EEA member countries have now phased out the use of leaded petrol, a goal that was regulated in the EU by the Directive on the Quality of Petrol and Diesel Fuels (98/70/EC).

In 2010 the largest emitters of lead were Poland (responsible for 20% of total EEA-32 emissions), Greece (18%), Italy and Spain (each 10%). Almost all countries report lower emissions of lead in 2010 compared with the year 1990, the only exception being Malta (Figure 4) in which lead emissions from road transport, which represent 96% of the national total, were reported only for 2010 and thus skewed the trend in the national total to show a nine-fold increase since 1990.

Specific policy question: How do different sectors and processes contribute to emissions of heavy metals?

Sector split of emissions of selected heavy metals for 2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: The contribution made by different sectors to emissions of cadmium - Cd; mercury - Hg; and lead - Pb in 2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Change in cadmium, mercury and lead emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2010 (EEA member countries)

Note: Percentage change in cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg) and lead (Pb) emissions for each sector between 1990 and 2010.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Specific assessment

For the heavy metals cadmium, mercury and lead, the most significant emissions sources in 2010 were from energy-related sources associated with fuel combustion, particularly from public power and heat generating facilities and from energy combustion in industrial facilities (Figure 5).

As noted earlier, for lead, the promotion of unleaded petrol within the EU and in other EEA member countries through a combination of fiscal and regulatory measures has been a key success story within Europe. The large reduction of lead emissions from the road transport sector (of nearly 99%) has been responsible for the vast majority of the overall reduction of lead emissions since 1990. Nevertheless, the road transport sector still remains an important source of lead, contributing around 9.7% of total lead emission in the EEA-32 region. Residual lead in fuel, from engine lubricants and parts, and from tyre and brake wear contribute to the on-going lead emissions from this sector.

Lead and cadmium emissions have also both decreased from certain industrial processes, such as metal refining and smelting activities, reflecting improved pollution abatement control, and in some countries as a result of economic restructuring and the closure of older and more polluting industrial facilities.

For mercury, since 1990 the largest reduction (in absolute terms) has been achieved by the 'Energy production and distribution' sector i.e. public power and heat generation. Mercury emissions from this sector are closely linked to the use of coal, which contains mercury as a contaminant. Past changes in fuel use within this sector since 1990, particularly fuel switching in many countries from coal to gas and other energy sources, closure of older inefficient coal-burning plants, and improved pollution abatement equipment etc are mainly responsible for the past decreases in emissions from this sector.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Martin Adams

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2012 1.1.2 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 1 year in October-December (Q4)
Document Actions
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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